Making bold statements in a competitive retail market is how this consumer products group achieved annual growth of 35% last year. The word “crowded” doesn’t even begin to adequately describe the entertainment consumer products space. The world of entertainment has changed and expanded to the point that properties are literally tripping over one another to grab and maintain consumer attention. For NBC Universal Consumer Products Group, the key to standing out in the crowd over the last few years has been putting a direct emphasis on all of its programming.

“We divide by channel, and then we divide by studio,” said Kim Niemi, senior VP for the consumer products group. “We’ve added specific publicity and marketing programs, enhanced our deliverable team that’s doing all of the approvals and the product development, and we’ve assigned both licensing and DVD sales to specific sales leads.” 

Portfolio power

Given NBC Universal’s high profile position in entertainment programming, Niemi’s group has an extensive catalog to bring to market. The group’s portfolio includes everything from third-party home entertainment distribution and consumer products to musical soundtracks, special markets projects, and the NBC Universal Online Store. NBC Universal Consumer Products Group is constantly watching trends and looking for retail opportunities and programs that could have a special affinity with certain core demographics or genres. 

Some of these programs include properties in the sci-fi genre like “Battlestar Galactica,” which can lean on the strength of the classic TV series, the recent reboot, and also the new “Caprica” spin off. Another example is “The Biggest Loser,” which has become a cultural phenomenon in the lifestyle category. Comedy properties like “The Office” and “30 Rock” are also enjoying tremendous success, as are some classic titles from the 1980s like “Knight Rider,” “Miami Vice,” “Murder She Wrote,” and “Saved by the Bell.” 

“When we see market trends and interest among fans, we can build on that and find new partners to come on board with our licensing efforts,” said Niemi. 

What Niemi believes helps make NBC Universal Consumer Products Group an attractive partner, other than the strength of its properties, are the unique and collaborative approaches the group takes toward working with licensees. Each of its TV channels are marketing partners and invested in the group’s efforts, as are the studios and studio executives working on individual shows. 

“As a result, the process is so collaborative that everyone is moving in the same direction, so when it comes time to release something, we can tap into our marketing team, which can weigh in on how we should go to market,” Niemi said.

“It is important to note just how closely we partner with our licensees,” added Joni Camacho, the consumer products group’s marketing director. “We don’t just bring them in and fit them into a one-size-fits-all style guide; we work hand-in-hand every step of the way.” 

The right path to market

Some of the ways NBC Universal reaches consumers take place in the virtual world. Earlier this year, the consumer products group launched a mobile storefront where consumers buy content like show-themed ringtones and wallpapers.

Another initiative is the focus on e-commerce, and consumers can basically find everything NBC Universal has to offer on the individual store websites. Whether consumers are interested in NBC, Universal Studios, CNBC, USA, Syfy, Telemundo, Chiller, Sleuth, the Olympics, Green is Universal, The Weather Channel, Bravo, Oxygen, or MSNBC, the online store has the properties and product categories to suit any visitor to the site. In addition, extremely popular properties may get their own online vehicle, as with biggestloser.com, which was originally conceived as a marketing tool and has expanded to become a dedicated showcase and marketplace to showcase the breadth of the “The Biggest Loser” lifestyle product line.

As for traditional brick and mortar retail, Niemi says it takes continual communication with both the buyers and marketing groups at the retail level. NBC Universal spends lots of time working with big boxes like Target and Walmart, specialty stores like the Hot Topic, and other retailers like Hallmark and Urban Outfitters to let them know what licensed products and programs are on the way and what the target audience is to make sure everything that comes out is a good fit for the retailer. 

Some of the promising programs NBC Universal Consumer Product Group has going on right now include athletic apparel inspired by “The Biggest Loser” and designed by Bruno Schiavi, which will launch in stores this fall; a collector’s edition of Monopoly based on “The Office” that will hit store shelves in June; and the launch of the Telemundo licensing program, which includes a Telemundo branded jewelry line with The Richline Group, a line of home furnishings with Arrow Home Fashions, and a line of Telemundo branded prepaid calling cards that started selling exclusively at 7-Eleven stores in April. 

“Obviously we don’t over think a mug or a key chain, but we spend an incredible amount of time refining products when it comes to building something major like ‘The Biggest Loser’ Wii game or the limited edition ‘Battlestar Galactica’ Cylon Toaster we unveiled at Comic-Con 2009,” Niemi said. “There are a lot of cooks in our kitchen, and rightly so, because we want to put products out there that are engaging and fun. To make a mark in a very crowded space, you have to be creative. That’s our emphasis and strategy on product development.”

In fact, continuing to make a statement in a highly competitive retail environment is what Niemi sees as the biggest challenge for the consumer products group. Strategically, Niemi knows that NBC Universal’s licensing efforts must find ways to continue developing unique offerings that engage the viewer and get feedback.

Right now, the group is working on ways to improve its scheduling program to handle a high volume of projects and streamline the product development approval process. By improving efficiency in scheduling and approval, the group can react to retail conditions faster and make sure its marketing efforts online and on-air are timely and impact the market. Additionally, the group continues to invest in its catalog, looking for ways to get the most out of classic and current properties that it can bring to retail and grow in the future. 

“This is a great team that is dedicated to doing everything it can for licensees, giving them every opportunity to succeed,” said Camacho. “We’re working together with licensees on every initiative, opening doors for them, and offering them opportunities for exposure in different ways than they ever would have expected.”